How does human motor cortex regulate vocal pitch in singers?

Michel Belyk, Yune S. Lee, Steven Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


Vocal pitch is used as an important communicative device by humans, as found in the melodic dimension of both speech and song. Vocal pitch is determined by the degree of tension in the vocal folds of the larynx, which itself is influenced by complex and nonlinear interactions among the laryngeal muscles. The relationship between these muscles and vocal pitch has been described by a mathematical model in the form of a set of ‘control rules’. We searched for the biological implementation of these control rules in the larynx motor cortex of the human brain. We scanned choral singers with functional magnetic resonance imaging as they produced discrete pitches at four different levels across their vocal range. While the locations of the larynx motor activations varied across singers, the activation peaks for the four pitch levels were highly consistent within each individual singer. This result was corroborated using multi-voxel pattern analysis, which demonstrated an absence of patterned activations differentiating any pairing of pitch levels. The complex and nonlinear relationships between the multiple laryngeal muscles that control vocal pitch may obscure the neural encoding of vocal pitch in the brain.
Original languageEnglish
Article number172208
Pages (from-to)1-13
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number8
Early online date15 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2018


  • voice
  • pitch
  • larynx
  • motor cortex
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • speech


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